Serving the Lord in ministry is a great privilege for anyone, and the rewards can be undeniably fulfilling. I could not think of anything else that can bring the same sense of fulfillment and satisfaction in life as doing ministry, much more if it is your full-time calling. This is because the desire of God that we love and serve one another is being fulfilled in our life, and the joy that comes from selflessness is simply incomparable.
While we can identify the benefits for being a pastor and the advantages for the family, including having a wide option of relationships to both nurture and be nurtured by, having an extended family that will be there for you and yours whenever you need them, and a myriad of blessings, tangible and intangible, that are unique only to pastoral families, we cannot negate the downside of it.
Ministry is not all bed of roses. Well, people forget that roses have thorns, and they can be thick and big, which can wound deep and leave nasty scars. The list of pressures and stress that come with being in ministry can range from few to many, depending on who is retelling it. But one thing is for sure, whether one or ten, these pressures and stress that come with full-time ministry work can bear down on the family real hard. And if parents (i.e. the Pastor and Pastor’s Wife) are not careful or even vigilant to guard against the negative effects of ministry on the kids, the trauma can damage them for a lifetime.
Perhaps the most common source of the pressure and stress on children of pastors and ministers is the expectation that other people have of them.
Expectations on anyone can be frustrating, and sometimes debilitating. Expectations on Pastor’s Kids (PKs) can be damaging. Church people can be merciless on how they pressure PKs to live up to their expectations or society’s expectations of them; from how they dress to how they walk or how they talk. Some instances, even to how PKs should think! Most people have good intentions, really. I know that they mean well and truly believe that they are doing the child a favor. They call it constructive criticism. And we all need that.
We need to be taught, because we don’t always know everything.
We need correction, because we are not perfect.
We need to be rebuked, because we are not always right.
Then how can we help our children, the PK’s, handle expectations in a healthy way?
There is a common saying, “the only person that you can control is yourself.” You cannot control what other people will say to you, but you can control how you respond. As a parent, you may by default, respond or react on their behalf. But you want to realize that it will not help them cope with it on their own. You won’t be around to defend them at all times. How then will they respond a week from now when they are on the playground? A year or two from now when they are in school? Five years from now when they are in college?
While the Pastor and wife may have the resiliency and strength to withstand the various expectations people have on them, with even the skill of facing them head on with grace and dignity, it is not the same with the kids. The children do not yet possess the same amount of strength, resiliency, resolve, and even grace to face this pressure. They are still in the process of growth and development; being molded, learning and exploring. They are still trying to understand the world around them. They are not yet in the position to be able to resolve such challenges on their own. We cannot expect them to face ministry pressures and stress in the same manner as their parents.
Therefore we have to teach them how.
Teach them how to face any challenge with dignity and grace.
Teach them how to be strong and resilient.
Teach them how to contend with expectations by teaching them of their true identity in Christ alone, so that their foundation will be rooted in who they are in Christ, and not in others.
It would be cruel for us to keep on taking them into our boat and sailing off, without much of an explanation of what will be ahead. We have to make it a priority that we equip our kids with the essentials that they will need to survive the life of a PK.
Always remember that before we are pastors and ministers, we are parents. Their parents. They must never doubt our love and never doubt that they are important.
The welfare of our children is to be our utmost priority. We do not delegate this to anyone else. This includes being their shield and defender, their comfort and guide.
So, as parents we have to be alert to what is happening to them, in light of ministry and we should be proactive – on their side, at all times. If they are right, we commend them. If they are wrong, we correct them. But we remain on their side of this battle they are learning to fight.
They are important.
No matter how busy ministry responsibilities may be, we must never fail to send this message to them. If you want your children growing up with love, respect and understanding of the ministry, then they must never feel that they are competing with ministry or with other people (i.e. church members) for your time and attention.
They are real people, with real feelings, going through real issues and struggles. Just because we didn’t go through these issues ourselves at that age, doesn’t mean they are not real to our kids.
Two struggles come to mind.
“I didn’t ask to be a PK, I didn’t chose to be a PK!”
Painful to hear, but true. And this is often the cry of many PKs who go through hell and high water just to survive the agonizing expectations placed upon them, and trying to fit in. PKs often find themselves in limbo – not really sure of who they are, where they belong or what they are supposed to do. That is why they are vulnerable to what the people around them feed them. If these are good and healthy messages, then there’s no problem, but when they are fed negative and unhealthy ones, then the chaos begins. Some find themselves alone, left out and with no real friends. This can be very traumatizing especially for them.
PKs are in an “unfortunate” situation where people, even including their own parents, often tend to assume that they are okay. We tend to have this idea that PKs have the inborn capacity to know God and are therefore capable of nurturing a deep and growing relationship with Him on their own, that they will grow to be as spiritual as us or that they will just pick up the Bible and automatically understand the mysteries in it.
Cassie Carstens, in his book, The World Needs A Father, says that fathers generally form the initial image of God to their children. A permissive father, a permissive God. An absentee father, and absentee God. An uninvolved father, an uninvolved God. You get the point. When their earthly father doesn’t provide a healthy father image, they don’t develop a healthy image of God. They end up struggling with their formative understanding of God if it is not consistent with what they see in their own father. Their understanding of God doesn’t begin once you place a Bible in their hands to read. Their understanding of God begins with and most often continues on from how their father is towards them.
Let me share a story.
I have been a PK for 45 years and still counting. I’ve had “do this, not that” for breakfast; “should and should not” for lunch; and the smorgasbord of both for dinner. I was already a young adult when it dawned on me that how I was living my life was not pleasing to God. Why? I was actually living for other people, not for God, much less for myself. In the eyes of others, I was the perfect PK. Not once did I tarnish the image of my parents, of the church or the Gospel. As soon as I stepped into a room, people knew I was not like them. I would not compromise if it meant ruining my image as a Pastor’s Kid. It was a nice image, but deep inside; it was an act I had been playing my whole life until then. I was rebuked, “God looks at the heart.” And yeah, God didn’t like what He saw.
It was only after I decided that I would stop living for the expectations of others that I began to get out from my shell and truly live for God. Never in my entire life did I fully experience “the truth will set you free.” I was living a lie – that my worth was based on what other people said and thought of me. I needed to embrace and live the truth – that my worth comes from God.
My only regret was that it didn’t come to me sooner.
Pastors and wives, your children are not an invisible part of your ministry tapestry, but a very visible partner in serving God. Recognize that they minister to you in very subtle but significant way, in a way only they can do as your children. They make life happier, lighter and more relaxed. They provide deeper meaning and purpose to your life.
Teach them. Love them. Feel them.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Donna Tan, from the Philippines, is a pastor’s wife, a pastor’s kid, a counselor, professional editor (for both academic and popular writing), resource speaker, writer, and blogger. Her passion is to minister to women (pastor’s wives in particular), couples and families.
Donna’s ministry experiences span ages and cultures; having led youth and women ministries in the Philippines, as well as women ministries in the US (as a leader with Trinity Wives Fellowship from 2010-2012, in Deerfield, IL). Donna is married to Dr. Jason Richard Tan (Ph.D.), and they have two children – Joshua (16) and Elisha (11). They have been married for 18 years. Jason and Donna are missionaries under GlobalGrace Fellowship (based in Pasadena, CA) serving the Philippines and Asia. She is the Admin Director of Great Commission Missionary Training Center. She is also a writer, professional editor, and blogger. You can connect with Donna through her blog TonesOfHope.blogspot.com